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by Judith Richards
Editor Lee Spratling arrived at work
recently 25 minutes late with a fierce
headache and a crick in the neck. "The
baby was crying, my five-year-old wanted
help with his clothes, my husband
couldn't find his keys. Then I had to
stand in line for my reserved order at the
Kolache Shoppe," she says.
"I feel rattled, get negative, lack patience and enthusiasm when clients don't
pay on time," says freelance artist Maura
"I have trouble breathing," says attorney Chere Lott.
It's all part of stress.
"You'll have your own symptoms of
stress," says Freeda Biggs, who recently
led a seminar on working women's stress
for the Women's Employment Forum.
"You might show physical signs, like
nail biting, itching, dry throat when you
really want to say, 'Go to Hell!' Or you
might react with uncomfortable feelings
of disappointment, frustration, anger,
helplessness, confusion, guilt."
We need stress to do our best. It's
the extra adrenalin that adds spark to a
speech or a sales pitch. As one woman's
mentor put it, "Ahhh, you've got to get
to white heat."
A few successful women are
apparently so used to a high level of stress
in their lives that they're not aware of
any tension. City Controller Kathryn
J. Whitmire, for example, gives the
impression that she isn't bothered by the
stresses of an intensive political campaign or of an exacting public service
job. "It's not a problem I've had to deal
Most women, however, feel stress—
distress. And much of it comes from the
How is our job stress different from
men's? "When there's too great a discrepancy between what you want to be
and what you can be, that causes stress,"
Edelman says. "In this culture, some
things are held out to women, but the
possibility of fulfilling them is limited."
Much of the limitation comes from
within us, some think. "Everybody's
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Some experts believe that practically
all illness is stress-related. Counselor Carol
Kelleher says, "Two years ago I came
down with shingles after two weekends
of leading out-of-town workshops. Last
year I got myself into an auto accident.
That time it was better. I didn't get really
hurt or sick. But I realized I wasn't
taking care of my needs. When you watch
out for yourself, these kinds of things
just don't happen."
People think of stress as bad; some
superachievers think they should
eliminate it altogether. In fact, it is
neither positive nor negative.
"Stress keeps us going," says psychotherapist Miriam Edelman. "It's in our
nature. Human beings like to create and
solve problems. Successful living is acquiring a more delightful set of problems
and better ways to cope."
Stress has been likened to the tension
of a violin string. Just the right amount
allows for beautiful music to be created—
too little, and it's impossible to play; too
much, and the string snaps.
scared, if they'd be honest with themselves," says UH assistant professor Sybil
Estess, "but women are more afraid to
fail-and to succeed. We haven't been
taught much about competition; we've
been trained as peacemakers. Until we
have the courage to think of an idea, risk,
make fools of ourselves, we won't really
Yet recent Census Bureau figures show
that female work patterns are rapidly
changing, becoming more like those of
male workers. And women are subject to
stress equally with men.
A recent U. S. News story reports that
there is more strain on women climbing
the corporate ladder. Such women not
only have the ordinary pressures of
dealing with a demanding job, but also
must face the possible burden of people
One professional, who asked not to be
quoted by name, says that so far her
career achievements have not elicited the
pat on the back they would have for an
equally ambitious male colleague. "The
vibes I get," she says, "are 'Who do you
think you are?' "
Channel 13 TV reporter and anchor
Jan Carson fights the stress of daily,
newsroom deadlines. "I have to get my
story done, read my script, be on the set
and appear relaxed by 5 p.m. If I look
harried and distracted, it shows in my
face," she says.
Because she's female, Carson contends
with some extra hassle. "It takes me
longer to get ready for on-camera work,"
she says. "Men just don't have to worry
so much about make-up and fixing their
to accept it as fundamental rule of gaining prestige and power within a business
"Once we're in, we can be more
human. For my own values, I believe that
if we could only express our emotions, it
would be healthier. But we can't today.
"I've worked on jobs when the men
around me were complaining of tightness in their chest and swallowing Maalox
like crazy. And all I felt like doing was
bursting into tears, which I had to suppress.
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How does she handle emotions on the
job? Carson emphasizes that distress
must be expressed appropriately, without
games. "I think women tend to play on
men's emotions at the same time they
expect equal consideration," she says.
"That's a double standard we need to get
"It's harder for a woman to confront
her boss and say she's really mad because
she doesn't want to be labelled a hysterical woman. But it doesn't help to keep it
in. You can do it-the right way. Make
sure you don't whine or 'poor me.' Act
like 'I'm a professional among professionals and I'm not going to take this kind
of treatment and here's why.' "
Talking personally about job stress
holds us back, says film production
manager Susan Vogelfang. "Women
"It's ironic. It's okay for men to experience this pre-heart attack condition.
It's also okay for them to evidence an
ulcer or pre-ulcer condition. It's okay to
talk about the consequences of suppressing your feelings. But it's not okay
to express the strain that contributes to
the development of these conditions.
Emotions are not appropriate. And by
emotions, I don't just mean crying. I
mean the other things women do to let
out their feelings one way or another."
Some specialists say that expressing
emotion can lessen strain, that taking
time off work for less important physical
symptoms like colds, sore throat, or just
feeling punk might help allay major illnesses. Studies show that men and
women log the same total time off the
job, says Kelleher, but women's is for the
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shouldn't admit to job-related stress or
trouble dealing with it. Until we're part
of the power elite, we have to disguise
our emotionalism. We won't be accepted
unless we do that. Whether we believe
that's the best way to be or not, we have
small stuff; men's is for major problems,
like heart attacks.
"But that's how they get women,"
says Vogelfang. "They point the finger at
us and say, 'She's too emotional. She
misses work. She doesn't know how to